The Tennessee Titans do not know for certain who will play quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
They know all too well, though, based on what happened earlier this season and the last time they played Pittsburgh, that it does not take someone the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger to defeat them.
Roethlisberger sustained an injury to his left foot in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s loss to Houston. Examinations revealed no broken bones, and the ailment was classified as a sprain.
He said he planned to play against Tennessee, if at all possible.
“We know no matter who lines up in those Pittsburgh uniforms it’s going to be a very hard, physical, tough game and a tough one to win on the road,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said.
Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of 2010 due to a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. That included a Week 2 trip to LP Field, where the Steelers started Dennis Dixon and then went to Charlie Batch when Dixon was injured. Pittsburgh won 19-11.
It was the Steelers’ second victory over the Titans in as many years and their third in the last four meetings. In the 2009 opener, Roethlisberger went 33-for-44 for 363 yards with one touchown and two interceptions as Pittsburgh won 13-10.
“[If] the media or public perception is that ‘because so and so isn’t playing, that means we win,’ it doesn’t work that way,” Munchak said. “There are guys that a lot of people never heard of that can do a great job. That lesson is learned every week in the NFL, I think.”
It is certain that Pittsburgh will be without linebacker James Harrison, who will undergo surgery this week to repair a fracture near his eye. Also, defensive end Aaron Smith has a foot sprain of his own.
Following his suspension, Roethlisberger played the final 12 games last season. That included several contests late in the year following a foot injury.
He might have preferred to miss the first four this season as well, given the punishment he has taken. He has been sacked 14 times, tied for third-most in the league. He also has thrown five interceptions, tied for the third-highest total, with just three touchdown throws.
The Steelers have said that, as a precaution, they would practice several packages specific to the strengths of Batch, a 14th-year veteran.
“Roethlisberger played last year with a broken foot,” Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty said. “To expect him to be out would be crazy. Right now, I’m expecting Roethlisberger to play. … If he doesn’t play, I’m pretty sure they’ll have an NFL quarterback ready and somebody that’s going to be capable of beating us.
“So you have to continue getting better and get ready.”
The Titans’ only defeat this season came in the opener at Jacksonville, days after the Jaguars waived veteran David Garrard and named Luke McCown, their third quarterback throughout training camp, the starter.
McCown, who had just seven starts in his first seven seasons, went 17-for-24 for 175 yards in the Jaguars’ 16-14 victory. Rookie Blaine Gabbart has since replaced him.
“Just like we found out in the opening game, we found out we were playing against a young quarterback making one of his first starts and we lost,” Munchak said. “So I don’t think we get caught up in that. I don’t think that’s why we lost, by any means. I don’t think that’s why we didn’t play as well.
“It just shows you that it doesn’t matter who lines up against you. You can lose.”